100 Days: Trump's Grotesque Theatre of Broken Promises, Incompetence and Alternative Facts
Commentators frequently claim it to be a presidency like no other. His presidency was unexpected, even accidental; he had held no government office before nor, like previous occupants, served in the upper echelons of the military; he tends to react to events not through quiet negotiation but through Twitter outbursts.
His presidency is unique as grostesque theatre, but ultimately it will be judged as any other.
We elect our leaders to improve our lives - to create jobs, increase living standards and better public services. It is on this basis that we assess, and will assess, Donald J Trump.
The 100 Days is a marker, started by the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It is false but, as with so much of politics, impressions matters. Previous occupants have used the marker to create momentum by securing political victories that will beget future victories.
Roosevelt signed 15 laws in his first hundred days. More recently, Ronald Reagan began work with House Speaker Tip O’Neil on his tax plan in what is regarded as an ideal of bipartisanship.
Perhaps gallingly for the present occupant of the White House, Barack Obama secured the greatest achievements of recent presidencies: signing a stimulus bill, an auto bailout bill, an extension of the children’s health insurance program and a $410bn spending bill; and began to lay the groundwork for a healthcare reform law that would take another year to pass.
Eight years later, it is not remarkable that so early in his presidency Trump has failed in so many campaign promises. His campaign was as erractic and chaotic as it was unrealistic. Of sixty campaign pledges already six have been broken. His promise to label China as a currency manipulator did not last a meeting with Xi Jinping; on cancelling visas to countries that would not take back criminal illegal immigrants and making college more affordable, he has broken his word.
"I thought it would be easier," he admitted, displaying both his ignorance and arrogance. Who would have thought it?
His “Muslim ban” has twice ran into predictable trouble in the courts. Though he railed against it on Twitter, it is the president’s job to act within the law and the courts’ job to enforce the law. As one of the earliest announcements of his presidency, it was a sign of unfitness to govern.
Alternatives facts will not hide the truth
Just as important was his incompetence on healthcare, where he put speed before care. Even then he lost interest and was unable to defend his own plan. “Repeal and replace” was one of his signature policies: it died because his White House did not have the political nous to spot the potential troubles and the president did not have the grasp of detail to persuade either the public nor his own party.
Having spent so long insulting the Democats it was unlikely that they would help him. Recent plans by House Speaker Paul Ryan to revive “repeal and reform” look to be following the first.
On tax reform, Trump’s administration has been shambolic. Trump himself has promised significant plans within time frames that have all passed. His plans, unveiled with characteristic hyperbole, have already been attacked as a “huge tax cut for the rich”.
With early signs of falling economic confidence and the slowest growth in three years, his Treasury Secretary was short on detail, and unable to state whether the plan would be revenue neutral or not. Inattention to detail has become a defining feature of Trump’s presidency.
He stood as a populist. Getting rid of tax deductions will hurt high-taxed states - such as New York - as well mortgage payers. It is an unjustified giveaway for corporations and the wealthy at the expenses of ordinary voterswho have seen incomes stagnate. His Cabinet secured their places despite widespread doubts and on partisan votes; now they put forward a plan that favours themselves. And, indeed, their boss.
Alternatives facts will not hide the truth when pay packages and incomes are squeezed.
His predecessor travelled Europe and the Middle East in his 100 days, the furthest Trump has travelled has been to his private beach resort, Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
On foreign policy, Trump has been chaotic at best, rash at worst. He deployed the THAAD missile defence, then demanded that South Korea pay for it while threatening to revoke the free trade agreement negotiated by Hillary Clinton. In a high-risk game he finds himself at odds with both North Korea and South Korea.
His strike against Syrian bases may have drawn “a red line” after Bashir al-Assad’s chemical attack. However, it was clear that he acted without waiting for confirmed evidence and neglecting to gather a coalition of support. His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was unable to build a concensus on an approach to Russia who have defended the Syrian leader: few foreign leaders trust the administration or its political will to follow through.
The United States is now a country whose allies do not believe it. The blame lies at at the feet of its erratic President.
Trump’s 100 Days have shown the great deficiency of its executive and the President himself
Trump has seen some successes; yet these have been entirely regressive, eliminating regulations that protect the environment and worker protections.
His most significant achievement has been to secure the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, despite being a conservative, was a respectable nominee. In filling the Antonin Scalia’s seat, he maintains the balance of the court. The worry for Democrats should be if another vacancy occurs that could shift the court to the right.
For all that, it is a pretty pathetic beginning to a presidency.
The optimism, usually associated with a new government, has been lacking. Already this is an administration that is mired in sleaze allegations of campaign collusion with Russian authorities; its in-fighting reveals a vain President who does not understand his own agenda; the ascendency of family members, like some third-rate dictatorship, takes the imperial presidency to not its logical but its farcical conclusion.
Trump’s 100 Days have shown the great deficiency of its executive and the President himself. Even when he veers away from his America First extremism - such as, recently, on NAFTA - his stated motives are never thought-through: this is a president, without rooted values, whose current thinking is based on the last person he talked to.
Liberals might welcome that his ineptitude holds him back and his seeming inability to learn will further limit him. By blocking his executive orders, the courts have also shown that the system can work. However, the danger becomes what does a weak man do when confronted his own failure?
About the author
Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.
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